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4 Ps for B2B social media

In almost every presentation about social media, the self-styled ‘gurus’ will advise joining the conversation. That is the same conversation made famous in The Cluetrain Manifesto, the bible of the blogging generation. This seminal work introduced the concept of markets as conversations; conversations that enable powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge. These new, networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.

Yet the response to these fundamental changes needs to be considered as part of the overall marketing mix. Cluetrain-savvy companies appreciate the need to communicate with their markets directly. The new mantra is:

  1. Listen to the conversations taking place about the market, brand, company and competitors and learn from what is being said;
  2. Engage with them by speaking in a human voice, share their concerns, and gain permission to join their communities.

Classically-trained marketers will be familiar with the 4 Ps of marketing, one of the best known marketing mix models, first expressed in 1960 by E J McCarthy. Best summed up as putting the right product in the right place, at the right price, at the right time, they are:

  • Product (or service)
  • Place
  • Price
  • Promotion

For decades, the 4 Ps model has helped marketers define their marketing options when planning new ventures and evaluating existing offers to optimise the impact on a target market. The model clearly still applies today (it’s all marketing, after all) but there are an additional 4 Ps that might apply in this digital age:

  • Personality (authenticity, adding value, people)
  • Presence
  • Purpose (sustainability, global and local)
  • Performance (return)

Let’s look at each in turn.

Personality

Brand personality cannot be faked on the social web, and the penalty to reputation from such fakery can be high. With authenticity as the new baseline for every brand, truth and transparency may pose challenges for many organisations but are increasingly non-negotiable. Social media is personal, so having a genuine personality is the key to achieving competitive advantage in the new digital age.

Presence

Every organisation starts from the same base when it comes to social media. Building a presence where authority is defined not by legacy, size or past initiatives, but by contributing – and being seen to contribute – to the online communities that matter to customers in the ways they want and expect, is essential to social marketing success.

Purpose

It is not sufficient to have presence alone, however. Companies need to be in it for the long haul, contributing consistently and with real purpose – not just to sell products. They should ask, who are we and how can we add value? not where is our audience and how can we target them?

Performance

Marketers must know how social marketing assists/affects organisational objectives, in the short, medium and long-term. They need to deliver a strong social performance across all functions, processes and channels, putting the right internal and external resources in place to achieve that. This performance needs measuring against real indicators of success, in order to learn and improve.

Content marketing for B2B brands

For most business marketers, an effective social media strategy will involve some form of content marketing. This is driven by one basic principle: that creating and sharing useful content will attract attention, drive qualified leads and increase customer loyalty. A good content marketing plan isn’t about sales materials, however; it’s about adding value in order to benefit in a number of different ways:

  • Creating a strong relationship with your community;
  • Demonstrating thought leadership in your area of expertise;
  • Improving your search engine rankings and driving traffic to your website;
  • Increasing consideration for your products and services by educating customers;
  • More opportunities to engage with prospects looking to buy.

Knowing what content to create, for whom and in what format are the three most important determinants of a successful content marketing strategy.

Who are you creating for?

It’s assumed that you already have a good idea of who your target audience is and their pain points, so this is the best place to start. In How to craft a successful social media content marketing plan, social media monitoring company Radian6 (now Salesforce Marketing Cloud) suggests using personas to represent the individuals you’ll create content for. Armed with information about their demographics, lifestyles, interests, geographic locations, education levels and values, the following questions can then be addressed:

  • How do they seek information?
  • How do they use social media and which social networks do they prefer?
  • What are their job responsibilities and what decisions can they make?
  • What challenges or problems are they trying to solve?
  • What could stop them doing business with you?
  • How do they measure success?
  • What are they reading, watching or hearing already?

What are they interested in?

Personas can help build up a tangible picture of the people you are trying to reach, but insight about what they are interested in – and therefore the content and themes around which you may be able to engage them – can come from other sources too.

Ask your existing customers. Formal and informal research into what existing customers worry about, what sources of information they turn to and which – if any – social media channels they use can provide much-needed guidance.

Ask your sales team. Your salespeople probably spend a lot of time talking to prospective customers. They’ll know what kind of information gets asked for most often, and what competitors are doing right. They may also be able to tell you what kind of content would help build a better relationship, and this should form part of your content marketing plan.

Ask your customer service team. Like the sales team, your customer service agents are also talking to customers on a regular basis. They’ll have a handle on the common problems and issues being faced, and will know the most frequently asked questions. These provide perfect content marketing material.

Listen to customers on social platforms. Many of your existing customers may already be using social networks to engage in discussion with peers about products and services. They may be sharing content from other companies and sources. Look at what they’re saying and sharing for clues as to content your company could contribute.

Join online industry communities. Professional social networks are also good sources of content inspiration. Search for groups, discussions and questions being created on LinkedIn, for example, relevant to your industry and note what kind of content is getting shared and discussed.

Follow industry news sources. There’s a good chance you do this already, but think of them in the context of your own content marketing plan rather than just news. They may reflect issues important to customers in your industry and, with an increasing number of online news sources encouraging comment and sharing, you can see what themes are getting discussed and shared by customers.

Use search to your advantage. Chances are the success of your web presence depends a lot on search engines. Research shows that most online experiences still begin with a search, and industry benchmarks suggest that search engines refer the majority of web traffic. If you don’t already, make sure you know what people are searching for in order to reach your website and use this data to inform your content marketing.

Monitor others. It’s quick and easy – and often free – to get alerts when an industry term, service area or even company gets mentioned online. Look at how often people are talking about these issues, what terms and phrases they are using (they may not be the same as your own marketing ‘speak’) and ensure your content is optimised to reflect this.

Armed with this information, it’s a straightforward process to identify the kinds of content the audience would respond positively to, and develop a content marketing strategy following a simple five-stage cycle:

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The impact of social media on organisational structure

the_world_is_flatSocial media are bringing down the artificial walls that organizations place around themselves – sometimes from the inside out but more often from the outside in, completely beyond the control of the organisation in question. They create a direct channel of communication between any employee and the people who make up their markets, bypassing the traditional mechanisms their organisations have put in place to ensure only certain people are allowed to speak – their ‘spokespeople’. In the world of social media though, every employee is the spokesperson. They just don’t necessarily know it.

Marketing is no longer the preserve of the marketing department. When every employee has the capacity to talk to people in the market what does this mean for the ‘official’ spokespeople, or even the CEO? As social media permeates the corporation – officially or, more likely to begin with, unofficially – what happens to the internal hierarchies it covets so much?

The traditional roles of consumer, employee, citizen, taxpayer and shareholder have all become blurred and intertwined, stripped back to what they really are: people. As an entity made up of people, the organisation of the future will not know where its barriers are – if indeed it has any. That is why this new found role for technology is becoming one of the most disruptive forces in business – externally and internally. It is not a technological revolution at all, but a truly social one.

I’m reminded of what Doc Searls’ said when interviewed by Shel Israel:

The walls of business will come down. That’s the main effect of the Net itself. Companies are people and are learning to adapt to a world where everybody is connected, everybody contributes, and everybody is zero distance (or close enough) from everybody else. This is the “flat world” Tom Friedman wrote “The World is Flat” about, and he’s right. Business on the whole has still not fully noticed this, however.

So it won’t just be the world that is flat, but the organisation too. Thomas Friedman highlights the blurring boundaries between companies and different groups of workers in The World is Flat, as well as the relationships between communities and the businesses that operate within them. As a result, the traditional supply chain relationships are changing dramatically, reshaping organisations – often from the bottom up.

Some in the ‘C-suite’ remain sceptical. They see social media as something that only kids and geeks care about. By embracing it, they fear they will risk legitimising those inane conversations about what people had for breakfast and alienating their ‘real’ customers, with not one iota of impact on their bottom lines. Yet more and more examples (from pure anecdotes to real business metrics) are surfacing to demonstrate that this new form of communication and collaboration can make a positive difference to business performance.

The biggest challenge with this emerging area of social media is therefore how well CEOs and CMOs – not just technologists and early adopters – comprehend, select and apply it.

The role of social networks in the B2B buying cycle

In 2009, two researchers set out to discover how social networks were being used by decision-makers in business, whether they were regarded as trustworthy and, in particular, whether they were relied on to support business decisions. Under the auspices of the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR), Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks, and Don Bulmer, VP Global Communications at SAP, surveyed 365 decision-makers or influencers representing 25 different countries, finding that:

  • Professional decision-making is becoming more social
  • Three leading professional networks have emerged
  • Professional networks are emerging as decision-support tools
  • Professionals trust online information almost as much as information obtained in person
  • Reliance on web-based professional networks and communities has increased significantly over the last 3 years
  • Social media usage patterns are not pre-determined by age or organizational affiliation

Specifically, they found that decision-makers are using social networks to inform and validate their decisions, disrupting traditional influence cycles. However they want these online interactions to be collaborative, avoiding the preferred sales and marketing activities of many companies. In addition, three-quarters of respondents now rely on web-based professional networks (most notably LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter) to support business decisions. They also found evidence to dismiss the common misconception that social media usage is a generational phenomenon, with 20–35 and 55+ respondents being the more active users of social platforms. In fact, what they found is that middle-aged professionals are the ones getting left behind, creating a digital void right in the middle of many organization charts.

Yet let’s put this in perspective. The traditional decision-making process is not being replaced by the likes of LinkedIn and Twitter; instead social media is supplementing it. Equally, the ‘traditional’ methods of online marketing are still the most relevant, with even those decision-makers who are most active in online professional networks saying that conducting research via search engines and visiting company websites are the most likely steps they would take to inform their decision-making. Social media is definitely creeping up on the inside though, and that is why B2B marketers cannot afford to ignore it. When around 40 per cent of executives involved in the decision-making process say that they would gather opinions about a potential supplier or look them up on social networks and read other blog posts about them (interestingly only 21 per cent would read the company’s own blog), then it is time to sit up and take notice.

The social brand value of the world’s biggest brands

I’ve just finished working on a major report for Sociagility, which looks at 50 of the world’s most valuable brands and re-ranks them according to their ‘social brand value’. No prizes for guessing that Google comes out on top, but some quite revealing insight into the others, including:

  • Disney fares pretty well, ranking 2nd overall but being the most consistent performer across all the attributes we evaluated.
  • Way down the ranking at 13th, Johnson & Johnson actually cleans up when it comes to receptiveness – an indicator of the more ’emotional’ side of health care and pharmaceuticals, perhaps?
  • The technology brands in the top 50 – including Apple, BlackBerry, Google and Microsoft – risk a perception of arrogance, having above average popularity scores combined with below average receptiveness scores.
  • Financial services brands (VISA, Goldman Sachs and J P Morgan Chase) are amongst the worst performing brands, but the big surprise is that telecoms brands (Deutsche Telekom, Movistar and China Mobile) are down there too.

A summary report can be downloaded from our website, or you can register to download the full version containing additional data and insight.

Three tenets of B2B social media marketing

As regular readers will know, I’m currently writing my second book. It’s been a significant challenge (they say the second child is easier, but I’m not so sure…), but it’s come on leaps and bounds in the last few weeks. So much so that I wanted to share what I consider to be the three main principles for marketers in business-to-business industries looking to harness social media.

Small communities matter – just because an online community is small doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. In fact, smaller communities are arguably more important than their larger counterparts, as influential voices are fewer and therefore carry a disproportionate weight. For example, a single recommendation for a shipping company when someone is looking to tender a £3m contract is much more valuable than ten, even 100, recommendations for the latest movie.

Virtual and physical relationships augment each other – relationships are what distinguish social media communities from other online communities and are, in my opinion, the single most important factor when it comes to using social media for business-to-business marketing. By connecting virtually with people who have attended a trade stand or event, and finding opportunities to meet with people who have connected virtually, brands can build online and offline relationships, engage advocates and detractors, and ultimately improve sales.

‘Social’ is not the same as ‘personal’ – if the social aspect of social media is about relationships – regardless of whether they are personal (friends) or professional (business contacts) – then the important thing for the marketer to understand is how people can switch between personal and work roles throughout the day. It’s a big factor in what GyroHSR’s chief executive Rick Segal calls the ‘at work’ state of mind. People can be physically at work yet at times mentally at leisure – and vice versa – but regardless of this, when they are using social media they are still social. It’s this understanding and appreciation of an audience that means that social media is used as much for business relationships as it is for personal ones.

I’m not saying that these tenets don’t also apply outside the B2B marketing space, just that they should matter more.

What do you think? Are there other things specific to B2B social media marketing?